House debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Grievance Debate

Climate Change

6:31 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to confess I'm a little envious of many members opposite—people like the member for Dawson, the member for Hinkler and the member for Hughes—who are untroubled by one of the major concerns which bedevils and confronts most Australian. I'd love to live in a world without climate change as they seem to; a world without any need to worry about extreme weather events destroying the lives and property in Australia; and a world without concerns about the Great Barrier Reef, waves of extinctions drowning out our irreplaceable Australian species or the most basic level of water security for future generations.

I understand the impulse to reject reality because, like anyone who actually takes science seriously, what is happening worries—no, it actually scares me too. And I'm not alone. The overwhelming majority of Australians shares my fears on our climate future. We know this, because we've asked them. We even know how few people share the opinions of the climate denialists amongst the government opposite—nine per cent. Let's be very clear on that: the nutbag antiscience denialists in the government represent only nine per cent of Australian.

We know that there's a spectrum of engagement with climate change issues in the community from the very engaged activist types to the completely dismissive—the 'she'll be right' mob. But the majority of Australians do see climate change to a lesser or greater degree as an existential threat to humanity and our way of life.

I can understand why so many government MPs want to believe that what's already happening is somehow magically not that bad, that the Bureau of Meteorology are secretly manipulating the weather data for no possible gain or that a mysterious army of invisible arsonists, aided and abetted by the greenies and the environment movement, are responsible for the bushfires which devastated so much of our country this time last year and that have started again.

On some level I also want to think that 50 years of climate science has all been a silly mistake and that we don't actually have to make changes to the way we work and live. It's far easier and far more comforting to just pretend that climate change isn't happening—it's just changing the climate—or to pretend that COVID-19 isn't real, that it's not a threat, than it is to actually make hard decisions, but necessary decisions, to wear masks, restrict activities or put up with other inconveniences.

It's also no shock that many people who were seduced by one conspiracy theory are also comforted by others. So let's just drop a few reality bombs on some of the loonier members of the government opposite: 5G will not rot your brain; vaccines are not filled with science fiction tracking devices; Donald Trump didn't win the election; masks do help stop COVID but bleach and hydroxychloroquine are not a cure; this one—the world is not run by a secret cabal of lizard paedophiles linked to the British royal family—as much as I dislike them, QAnon; and climate change is not a hoax. These mad right-wing fantasies should be called out, not given succour by government members or ever tolerated by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's failure to challenge the climate lunacy on his backbench, and now in his cabinet—he promoted the member for Hinkler—is a failure of leadership. On some level, I think the Prime Minister actually quite likes this arrangement. He hates taking action and actually being responsible. He's just a daggy dad hanging at home in the Lodge with his personal photographer. But Australians desperately need a government willing to take action and to seize opportunities. There's too much at stake. We need leadership, not a marketing department that masquerades as a government.

It's sad that the politicised subject of climate change—the very words 'climate change' have been politicised now—has reached a point where those at the extremes are no longer persuadable by facts and evidence. We're clear on that. The research shows that charts and slides don't change hearts and minds. But we don't actually need to persuade anyone, because over 90 per cent of Australians want action. Most MPs were elected to this parliament promising to take action. The member for Higgins over there was. She's one of those moderate Liberals we hear about. She has a background in research and science. I respect her for that. The member for Higgins knows what the data is telling us and understands the threats we face and the opportunities that this country could seize. But too many government MPs, these moderate Liberals, are gutless. They don't speak up. They just give in to the nutters over there who threaten to blow up the government if they act on climate change. I think the real sin of the member for Dawson—who, unlike perhaps the member for Hughes, is not actually stupid—is that he knows exactly what he's doing. He's a very clever man. But these so-called Liberal moderates, these fakes, should know that Australians see them and they'll remember their complicity in dodging the greatest threat of our age.

Labor has been willing for years to find a bipartisan and politically sustainable solution to this issue, but the Liberals are too scared of the nutters in their own ranks. Government should be about robust debate about policy. Australians can actually handle the truth. We used to have leaders that could give people the truth and take them from one place to another. Over 90 per cent of Australians—we'll keep saying it—accept the reality of climate change. We know that the vast majority want leadership and urgent action to reduce emissions, not just because they're scared but because they understand the huge opportunities for our country. It's not too late to transition to being the regional renewable superpower we should already be—exporting clean energy to our neighbours and green tech to the world. We could be embarking on a truly nation-building project, creating thousands of sustainable jobs. The Labor leader, in his budget reply, outlined practical policies to create thousands of jobs. Even the Liberal state governments are facing reality and taking action. They've all signed up to net zero by 2050—all of them.

Australians can understand the science, yet, when they hear members of their own national government parroting lies about clean coal, their respect for government itself diminishes, and it makes us as a nation look like fools in the developed world. As Malcolm Turnbull recently said on Q+A, saying you believe or disbelieve in global warming is like saying you believe or disbelieve in gravity. It's wonderful, of course, isn't it, to see Malcolm's spine is growing back! Tony Abbott was hostile to climate change, and how did that end for him? It's good to see that Liberal voters in Hughes are now fed up with the member for Hughes. They've taken the drastic step of forming a local grassroots organisation to find a better and saner local MP, one that isn't internationally regarded as a laughing-stock. When your own voting base is actively mobilising against you, Member for Hughes, maybe it's time to go back to your old career as a furniture salesman.

It was back in 2010 that then US President Barack Obama warned that America's growing distrust of science, manipulated for political ends by Republicans, wasn't just dangerous for scientific progress and prosperity; it was dangerous as it undermined public trust in institutions. Right now the United States shows us what happens when trust is weakened. Governments exist to provide stability and security and solve collective problems. Policy must be based on evidence. A government which treats science as something people can take or leave, as though science itself is a matter of prejudice or opinion, or a game where you barrack for your favourite team, erodes trust in the public good and damages our democracy.

The Prime Minister has told the nation all year that his COVID response was based on scientific advice. Well, that's good and as it should be. But, if he can follow the science on COVID, why not on climate change? Scientists tell us that climate change is a much greater threat to humanity than COVID. The overwhelming majority of Australians recognise the need for, and are calling out for, real action on climate change. Yet delusional demands from government MPs for taxpayer subsidies for coal fired power stations or rejection of the evidence before our own eyes as bushfire seasons start earlier and earlier, see more and more public trust fall away.

The compact between the parliament and the people who elected us is a vital but fragile one, and the responsibility for preserving it depends on every member on this place being honest and in leaders leading. The Prime Minister needs to start taking his job seriously, stand up to the nutters in his government or get rid of them, not promote them to cabinet, and lead. Right now the Prime Minister is quarantining at The Lodge with his personal photographer. Instead of holing up with his chief of staff or his economic adviser or the Chief Scientist, or working intensively on real problems like poverty or climate change, this failed marketing guy chose a photographer to take photos of him pretending to be an ordinary guy.

The thing is, he is not an ordinary guy. He is the Prime Minister. He is supposed to lead and act on real problems, not muck around with chook sheds and shorts and baseball caps. There is no task more urgent for humanity's long-term future then tackling man made climate change. The government needs to set meaningful targets for emissions reduction, not fake targets. We need a proper road map for how industry and energy will transition to a low carbon future—like just about every developed nation in the world has except for us—and how Australia will take advantage of the jobs and the social benefits of renewable energy, sustainable technology and sustainable industry. If this is too difficult for the Liberal and National parties to deal with, or deal with the nutters in their government, they should stand aside and let a government that accepts reality take over.